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Non-Review Review: Green Book

Green Book feels like a movie lost in time.

If Green Book feels displaced, it is not from the early sixties backdrop against which the story unfolds. Instead, Green Book feels like an awards season movie that was produced in the early nineties, and which slipped gently under the radar until it was unearthed at some recent point. Green Book very much belongs to those early nineties awards fare meditations upon race and class in America – especially Driving Miss Daisy, the film it most strongly evoked.

Going by the Book.

As a piece of nineties awards fare, Green Book would be judged rather kindly. It is crowd pleasing. It is broad. It is earnest, without being unnecessarily confrontational. It is also appreciably smarter than many of those nineties commentaries on race in America, consciously subverting and even inverting a lot of the expectations of the form. it is designed in such a way as to leave the audience with a big grin on their face, playing with familiar sets of narrative logic that nests a classic “odd couple” movie inside an exploration of the prejudices of the Deep South in the sixties.

However, Green Book is not a lost piece of nineties awards fare. It is a product of the current era. While it might track ahead of similarly ill-judged (and sadly contemporaneous) awards season movies about race like The Blind Side or The Help, it is still far more clumsy than a movie tackling these ideas should be in a twenty-first century context. Green Book feels positively outmoded when compared to fellow high-profile films about race like BlacKkKlansman or Sorry to Bother You or If Beale Street Could Talk. Green Book feels like a relic.

Food for thought.

This is a paradox. Green Book is significantly better in terms of production than many of the films to which it consciously invites comparison, films by white directors inspired by true events and coloured by nostalgia. However, it is significantly weaker than many of the more vital and dynamic films grappling with the same subject matter. Green Book often feels caught between these two extremes, and this presents a challenge in properly assessing it.

Green Book is a very good example of the kind of movie that it wants to be. However, it leaves unanswered the question of whether movies like this still have a place in the modern cinematic landscape.

“Doctor Shirley, you can’t be serious?”

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